Freestone Artisan Cheese
Last weekend I had a chance to check out Freestone Artisan Cheese. Wild Flour Bread Bakery, a stone’s throw away and the town’s main attraction, was overrun, judging from the cars parked helter-skelter on the road, and this cheese shop was buzzing too on Saturday.
Omar Mueller is the owner and cheesemonger. The cheeses are mostly from Sonoma and Marin counties, and as far as I could tell, all domestic. Besides cheese, locally produced olive oils and vinegars are available for tasting. Despite the constant peppering of questions and requests for tastes from the many potential customers clustered in front of him, Mueller managed to keep up and made each of us feel looked after and well served. With his engaging manner and generous sampling, it seemed to me that everyone leaves with a purchase.
Maybe I took longer studying the case than others do. Soon he said, “You’re the ideal kind of clients. You hang back, study all the labels, keep to yourself. Just ask, you’re welcome to taste anything.” I replied, “Well, I’m trying to find something I haven’t tasted before.” Though I didn’t mean to throw down the gauntlet, he seemed to enjoy the challenge of attempting to introduce me to something new. We wound up trying more than 20 cheeses, all in impeccable condition, and I’ve posted about some of them on the Cheese Board.
Gypsy Rose by Gypsy Cheese Co. of Valley Ford CA [Sonoma County]
Kenne by Tomales Farmstead Creamery [Marin County]
Bay Blue by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. [Marin County]
Mayor of Nye Beach Washed Rind [Oregon]
Buffalo Manchego by North Bay Curds and Whey [Valley Ford, Sonoma County]
Harbison from Jasper Hill
Eventually we bought a couple old favorites: Harbison and Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold, plus the new (to me) Gypsy Rose. Best cheese of the day though was a water buffalo blue that has not been released for sale yet. Mueller said it should be ready in a couple weeks.
The cheese inventory is not marked with prices . . . which bugs me. Cheeses are pegged at three price points: $19, $27 and $34 per pound. The level of service, carefully curated selection and excellent condition found here don’t come cheap. While the shop is too far out of the way and the cost too dear to be my regular cheese source, this is the place to discover small production North Coast cheeses that have very limited distribution.
Freestone Artisan Cheese
380 Bohemian Hwy
Freestone, CA 95472
I was there yesterday and had a similar experience (and bought some of the same cheeses -- the gypsy rose, and he sold me the water buffalo blue!). I love the San Joaquin gold, but I think I would have gone with the Estero reserve he was tasting yesterday,
I tasked him to find me some hyper-local small-producer cheeses I would have trouble finding in the Bay Area, and he was up to the challenge. While I was there he also traded some cheese for some Gravensteins another customer had just purchased up the road, and held an impromptu apple/cheese pairing session for me (we really liked the apples with a peppercorn goat's cheese). I was asking about the new blue from Bleating Heart, and he said they had brought him something he hadn't unwrapped and didn't know what it was -- it turned out to be a delicious washed rind called "Funky Bleats"!
You had told me the prices were high, but I think it works out that some are a little less expensive than elsewhere (I think I paid $36/lb for Bleating Heart at Rainbow) and some are a little more.
It was busy when I got there, but I just waited out the crowd (tasted all the oils and vinegars) until there was time to relax and talk and taste with the cheesemonger. Well worth a stop.
BTW, we also stopped in at Wild Flour, which was not busy when we got there (around 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon) but had a line out the door a few minutes later when we left. My experience in several visits there is that the crowd really ebbs and flows.